“See you later Alligator! “After while crocodile!” That was our signature way to end our phone calls . The conversations I had with my grandmother, who I affectionately called ‘Nanny’, were the highlights of my day. No matter what was going on in my busy young adult life- cheerleading practice, calling her from my university dorm room, or dialing her number from Hong Kong, I could always trust that I would be greeted with the sweet ring of the nickname she had for me, “Mae Mae!”
Growing up my Nanny bought me tons of children’s books, especially ones that celebrated Black History. She was a teacher for over 40 years who valued education; she was also one of the first teachers in my hometown to teach all races of students after segregation was ended. Nanny encouraged me to live my dreams and invested in my future in every way possible. I took my first trip out of the country with her in 7th grade on a cruise to Mexico where I got the fun luxury of swimming with a dolphin. I also was gifted a college graduation trip to Hawaii from her which was absolutely amazing ! She kept bragging to everyone on the island about how her granddaughter graduated from one of Texas’s top universities in 3 years !
It was a trip of a lifetime.
We would always talk about our next trip we were to take-my grandmother has been to so many countries ! When her husband, my grandfather, died in the 80s, she began internationally traveling, harnessing her grief as power to start a new adventure in life . My grandmother was an amazing wife to my grandfather, Albert Dickson, but when she became a widow, she taught me that a woman does not need a man by her side to enjoy and conquer life! That we are self-sufficient on our own. She’s been everywhere from Israel to Greece, with London being her favorite. (Fun Fact: I wrote The Queen of England in 2019 telling her how much my grandmother loved her country, and her Lady in Waiting wrote me back telling me how honored The Queen was to hear that!) My grandmother was such an inspiration to me. She is where I get my globetrotting love and fierce independence.
Little did I know our Hawaii trip would be our last .
In 2018 after an alarming decline in weight loss, she was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. It was a heartbreaking diagnosis to say the least. But I was determined to give her lots of love and to document our last days together.
When I would visit her I would write beautiful letters to her, I would set a 'stage' in her house that was turned into a hospice and read them to her. She was alert to the very end. Even though her body was decaying away her mind was as sharp as a tack. She told me years prior that she always asked God to “keep her mind” as she got older. I would see her do crossword puzzles in her free time to keep her mind active. It’s just awesome to see that her prayer was answered . I would use my voice memo app on my phone and record myself reading poems I wrote for her and songs I would sing to her. I would put my camera in a corner and record myself giving her flowers, and kisses and hugs . I recorded myself telling her how much she meant to to me. I will always cherish those sweet moments and I’m even more grateful that I have those memories captured through the power of technology.
I am word girl, words of affirmations mean so much to me. I keep every card and letter that was written to me. My grandmother has gifted me beautiful cards over the years for every occasion . From my kindergarten graduation in 2000 to Valentine’s Day cards sealed with hearts and kisses. She would write beautiful heartfelt letters of how special I was to her, she loved her only granddaughter so much. I even had the newspaper article that she wrote honoring my high school graduation announcing proudly to our Texas community just how special of a girl I truly was and how the sky would be the limit for me. She supported my dream to be a writer, I love writing scripts, songs and stories- anything that will get a message of hope out to people . So I wanted to make a bulletin board filled with all the letters and cards she wrote me and gift it to her. The day of her cancer diagnosis I stayed up all night crying while simultaneously creating a vision board per se of all the memories we shared through words and pictures. She loved the gift deeply. Nanny felt so honored that I kept her written words like sacred treasures throughout the years . 2 years later, that bulletin board is hanging proudly in my room. To me it’s like the heartbeat of her legacy.
She passed away 4 months later in April 2018. My heart was broken, thinking of my wedding she wouldn't be at and the next great trip we weren’t going to be able to take , but I found solace in the fact that she knew just how loved she was.
Phone calls, texts and letters may seem like a small feat, but in retrospect those phone conversations are some of my dearest memories. My Nanny was fond of leaving a quirky voicemail when I didn’t answer and I have all of those saved. I listen to them with a smile from time to time. I even have my grandmother’s journals which she noted her daily life (with time stamps) of what she did, who came over, and most specially, who called. As I look back through the dates I’m so happy to see my name listed as a person who called her for that date. Again, something you think is so simple in the moment is so special to that person, and the love from that moment will ring a lifetime.
I’ll close with this memory . One day I called my grandmother and answered with the song by Stevie Wonder, “I Just Called to Say I Love You," playing in the background. She was so surprised and she loved it. I would give anything to call her one last time and hear the closing words, “See You Later, Alligator!” I have hope that I will see her again when my life is over on Earth, but until then I will listen to the saved voicemails from her saying “Mae Mae, it’s your grandma!”
Here is to my beautiful, fierce and independent grandmother who taught me to be strong, focus on education, treat others with respect and to follow my dreams. She gave me the world and for that I will always love, Mary Louise Dickson!
Thanks for reading,
*P.S keep up with me at http://www.staciecherill.com/?m=1